In an apparent about-face, Britain sided with a minority group which argued that the compromise proposals did not go far enough and would still cause unacceptable suffering for millions of sheep, cattle and pigs on their way to slaughter.
Just five days ago her colleague Nicholas Soames, the junior agriculture minister, had been hailing the compromise proposals as 'a great step forward for animal welfare' - to the well-publicised fury of the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming. The latter launched an emotive advertising campaign in newspapers.
But at a meeting of European Union farm ministers in Luxembourg it became clear that if Britain joined Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium in resisting the proposals they could be blocked. Mrs Shephard said she decided there and then that there was a reasonable chance of winning a better deal for farm animals by delaying.
Animal welfare groups want Britain to back a German proposal for a maximum eight-hour journey time for all farm animals. That would virtually end British exports of live farm animals. About two million are expected to make the cramped lorry and ferry journey across the Channel to abattoirs in Europe and farther afield this year.
'We're very pleased,' said Joyce D'Silva, director of Compassion in World Farming. 'We're delighted she has listened to us because they had been going to sign up to this unacceptable compromise.' Jerry Lloyd, campaigns chief at the RSPCA, said: 'She has listened to the outraged voices of so many members of the UK public and refused to settle for these unsatisfactory and weak proposals.'
The existing European Union limit of 24 hours on the road between stops for feeding, watering and resting remains in force. The compromise was for a maximum of 22 hours between stops for feeding and resting and a maximum of 15 hours between watering stops. Britain has its own 15-hour limit.
The ministers also agreed to ask the European Commission to report back within a year on the feasibility of an overall maximum journey time, irrespective of how often the animals were rested, fed and watered on the way. Animal welfare groups say such an overall limit is essential, but there is little hope of the EU states ever agreeing on one as short as eight hours.
Meanwhile, Mrs Shephard continued her battle with the Germans over their threat to ban British beef imports because of mad cow disease. She gave the commission a dossier of statements made by German officals denigrating UK beef and said the 'unjustified criticism' was an unacceptable barrier to exports.
Leading article, page 15Reuse content